Despite an eight-months' mileage equivalent to 48,000 flights around the world, current accidents per 1,000 hours flown by the Army are fewer than the 1932-1942 peacetime average, according to Robert A Lovett, Assistant Secretary of War for Air. Answering general critics of American military aircraft, specific questions regarding the apparent increase in air fatalities during recent months, Mr Lovett pointed out that 78.3% more hours were flown during the first eight months of 1942 than during the ten-year period preceding Pearl Harbor. The present accident rate is 11% lower than the ten-year average and percentage of fatalities has increased only .014 despite the fact that military necessities present hazards seldom, if ever, encountered in peace-time flying.
Widespread criticism of the Army's apparent attitude toward Negroes brought results recently with announcement that an all-Negro air group is now being readied for combat service. Composed of one squadron already in training, two others now being activated, the new group will be provided with all the. supporting services including Signal and Quartermaster Corps. Thus, America's air arm will soon embrace a cross-section of the entire population. In the meantime, Negroes are being trained in virtually all branches of the Technical Training Command and at Officers' Training Schools at Miami. The Army also has a number of large Negro units in the Infantry, Cavalry, Field Artillery, Engineer, Chemical Warfare, and Medical Corps.
Close on the heels of Vultee's announcement that a new plant had been acquired at Allentown, Consolidated Aircraft, also affiliated with the Aviation Corp, has announced that a new type patrol bomber will soon be in production at a New Orleans factory. The new plant, not yet completed, was acquired from Nash-Kelvinator. Details of the new plane have been withheld by the Navy, although some observers have hinted that the "patrol bomber" will actually be the B-24 Liberator modified to suit Navy tactics.
Although no official score-sheets on war gains and losses can be released, estimates for America's first active war year were made recently by United Press experts at Washington. Announced casualties during 1942 totaled 6,606 American dead, 3,688 wounded, 42,272 missing, 1,392 prisoners. The US Navy lost 61 ships in the Pacific, the United Nations sacrificed 591 in the western Atlantic. On the other side of the martial ledger, the US had increased the Army from 1,800,000 to 4,800,000 while the Navy had grown from 325,000 to 1,100,000 and the marines from 60,000 to 210,000 men. War production records showed an increase from 14,000 to 49,000 aircraft and merchant ship tonnage boosts from 1,640,000 to 8,200,000 tons.
According to John Hix, artful interpreter of scientific angles, the first heavier-than-air craft to lift a human passenger was a box-kite. In 1893 two decades before Kitty Hawk Lawrence Hargrave went aloft over England in the largest of a string of box-kites. Mr Hix also reports that a magician was the first man to fly in Australia. Impressed by fears that the Anzacs would some day be at tacked by air, Harry Houdini made an airplane flight at Melbourne in 1910. And, as a come-on to US scrap collectors, Hix declares that a 250-pound kitchen stove contains enough iron to make one 500-pound aerial bomb.
Although baseball fans, gymnastic die-hards heralded news that Lieut Commander Tom Hamilton would soon go overseas as the beginning of the end for Navy pre-flight training, later releases have been more encouraging to men who recognize the physical strains of combat flight. Swimming, in particular, will be increasingly arduous at pre-flight schools during the coming months. At Iowa City, for instance, ability to swim across the pool is no longer considered adequate skill for a naval pilot. Instead, he must be able to swim under water for fifty feet, swim continuously for fifteen minutes, swim fifty yards on his back after jumping from a ten-foot platform, then continue fifty yards farther with a breast or side-stroke before going an additional fifty yards with any stroke. The 150 yards must be traversed without stopping or floating. In line with "win at any cost" rules which prevail in combat, water polo, stripped of bodily contact provisions, result in a veritable underwater football game in pre-flight pools.
Even though German inventors, in the main, are now devoting their talents to destruction of Allied planes and personnel, Claude Dornier has unwittingly given the US a potential weapon against the Nazi dragon in the form of US Patent No 2,308,796 registered at Washington. Basically, the Dornier invention permits the rear gunner in a two-man plane to change the angle of the plane's wings, enabling the ship to put on a burst of speed when pursued. Herr Dornier points out that the use of rudder or elevator in evasion tactics often telegraphs the coming maneuver to the attacking pilot. Change of wing angle, on the other hand, is not easily spotted. The Dornier patent is, of course, vested in the US Alien Property Custodian.
This column was originally published in the March, 1943, issue of Air News magazine, vol 4, no 3, p 8.